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Birmingham and Solihull Mental health NHS Foundation Trust
Better Together

20 years of transforming women’s lives

Published: 18/05/2023

Over 200 NHS mental health professionals from across the UK gathered to celebrate 20 years of transforming Ardenleigh, our women’s secure mental health service.

Held at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, the conference showcased several workshops featuring key speakers who each explored how female mental health care has improved and what advancements we have seen nationally, particularly over the past two decades.

From discussing the use of psychedelics in psychology to sharing ideas on how we can continue to reduce inequalities, the day was well received by all who attended. 

Dr Emma Wadey delivering her speech
Dr Emma Wadey delivering her speech

Opening the event was Dr Emma Wadey, Deputy Director of Mental Health Nursing for NHS England who reflected on how much the NHS system as a whole has adapted to meet the needs of female mental health service users, saying:

“We’ve come an awfully long way. Patients and service users were once called ‘inmates’. Women were once thought to be too ‘fragile’ to work in mental health nursing. Women worked with women and men only worked with men”.

Over the last 20 years Ardenleigh has undergone much change. Opening at a time when high secure beds for women were closing and there were small numbers of women in our otherwise male medium secure services. Fast forward to today, Ardenleigh is a 30 bedded female-only unit that covers the whole of the West Midlands, consisting of multidisciplinary support ranging from clinical psychologists to occupational therapists.

Emma Watts
Emma Watts

Emma Watts, our Clinical Nurse Manager has worked at Ardenleigh for 14 years, starting off her journey as a student nurse. Since gaining her first staff post in women’s services, she has spent most of her career supporting women who need care within mental health services. Reflecting on her experience, Emma said:

“As a nurse, the biggest change I have seen is the approach we provide to service users. We have gotten better at understanding their trauma and how this can impact on their experience within an inpatient setting.

“I’ve seen a real shift in the attitude of nurses, they are much more compassionate, much more trauma informed and are more skilled in dealing with complex presentations that we see within a hospital environment.”

Ardenleigh has had the privilege of working with many inspirational and courageous women since its opening in 2003. The conference concluded by hearing from two service users who gave powerful testimonies about their lived experience. One service user had spent most of her adult life in an inpatient setting and commented how much the service had changed. She valued how individualised her care now was and that staff understand her better.

Below is a short summary video of the day. Further information about Ardenleigh and it’s service can be found here

Ardenleigh 20 years